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Saratoga County Officials Searching For New Direction For Closing Prison

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The recently approved New York State budget guarantees the closure of four prison facilities across New York. Now, some officials in the Southern Adirondack region are trying to find new uses for Mount McGregor Correctional Facility. 

The closure of the Mount McGregor prison, along with three other correctional facilities, was initially announced by the Cuomo administration in the summer of 2013. Since then, local and state officials, along with employees of the facility, have protested the closure — to no avail. The recently signed state budget does not include language to keep the medium-security facility in Saratoga County open.

Now, local officials are trying carve out a different future for the site, which sits on 1,200 acres in the towns of Wilton, Moreau, and Corinth.

Earlier this year,Empire State Development released a report on potential adaptive resuses of the property. Wilton town supervisor Art Johnson said he’d like the surrounding communities to work together on developing a business plan for the site.

“I’ve been in discussions on Empire State Development, and they’ll be working on a redevelopment plan for the prison, and I think an important part of that is the three communities that are involved up there, which is the Town of Moreau, Town of Wilton, and the Town of Corinth, come up with a viable business plan,” said Johnson.

As part of the budget deal, $32 million would be provided to communities affected by the closures of Mount McGregor, Chateaugay in Franklin County, Monterey Schock in Schuyler County, and Butler in Wayne County. Prison property would also be considered a part of the “Start-Up NY” program, which would allow businesses to move to designated areas tax-free.

Moreau town supervisor Preston Jenkins said the prison closure slated for July coupled with the closure of the GE plant in Fort Edward next year means a lot of town residents will be out of work. Jenkins said it would take a significant operation to move to the site in order to make up for the lost jobs.

“There’d be zero tax benefits for us, so if it wasn’t something that created a lot of jobs, it would be difficult to think it was great for us,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins said he’s still interested in an idea pitched to Empire State Development to allow the site to host possible casino development, though he said he’s unclear of the sentiment from developers.

Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco said the site has many potential uses.

“I think what we can attract is a whole variety of businesses and industries there. It could be high-tech, it could be related to manufacturing,  there’s a whole variety, we just have to spread the word and let them know here’s an opportunity to get into a facility where you’re not going to be impacted by the usual high taxes for a small business,” said Tedisco.

Tedisco said he is not against right-sizing of the correctional system, but would like more involvement in the closure process. Tedisco has authored a bill that would change state law to require increased involvement with the state legislature on developing a plan on the closure of future prison facilities.

“We’d be able to sit down with the governor with the next closings that take place, be a part of the planning process, and there would be a plan in place and we would ratify that mandated that it would have to come before the Senate and Assembly,” said Tedisco. “And we’d vote collectively on the plan itself that we helped develop.”

A version of the bill is sponsored in the Senate by Kathy Marchione and Hugh Farley, both Republicans. The NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has said the closures are necessary as crime rates decrease, inmate populations decrease, and taxpayers cannot afford to pay for empty beds.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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